The 10-Year Challenge

Last week there was a new challenge on Facebook.

It asked that you post a photo of yourself from 10 years ago and one from today.  I’m not sure, but I think it was to commemorate that Facebook has been in our lives for about a decade.

Sometimes I miss the old days of Facebook when it wasn’t run by Russians.  The challenge made me nostalgic for the past.  I thought about all the friends I’ve made on Facebook and all the conservative relatives I’ve stopped speaking to because of it.

And I still miss the days when you wrote your update in third person.

Keith Hoffman is feeling happy that Barak Obama won and racism has ended!

 I also miss the quizzes.  Once when my friend Sara called and asked if I had time to talk, I told her I was too busy at work.

“Really?” she said.  “Then why did you just post the “WHICH DOWNTON ABBY CHARACTER ARE YOU” quiz results on your wall?   (For the record, I was Lady Edith—the middle sister who was perpetually unlucky in love—the exact one you don’t want to be).

The challenge was more interesting than I first thought.  I saw people grow from teens into adults.  I saw people go from being a mess to getting sober and looking shockingly different and healthy.    I saw a lot of men and women who looked older and more beautiful.   (I guess if you really aged badly you wouldn’t have played the game?)  It was fascinating seeing people transition through their lives.

My pictures didn’t look that different at first glance (Thank you Oil of Olay), but more interesting to me was that both photos happened to be cropped.  In the first, I was with my sister during our trip to New York City back when she  lived in Ohio and I lived in LA.  In the second, I am with my husband who I didn’t even know ten years ago.  (And if I had, he would not have legally been allowed to be my husband.)

The first picture is from 2007.  (I realize that is from almost 12 years ago, but I don’t think the rules about it being 10 years are that strict.)  If you had told that man in the picture that in the next twelve years the sister standing next to him would be dead and then his mother would die a few months after that, and that he would stop drinking and doing other self-destructive behaviors and move from Los Angeles back to the city he is visiting in the photo, and get a new job and become mildly famous in certain odd circles because  of Bigfoot,  and travel to Greece and Scotland and Nepal and meet a man he would marry and then buy a house with him in a little river town he had never heard of…

Well, I would be excited about the husband and New York City, and think you were absolutely crazy about the bigfoot thing–but mostly I wouldn’t get past the thing about losing my sister and mom.   I would be pretty horrified and terrified and FREAKED OUT!   I would be angry at you and then probably plead with you, asking you if I could change the future like Scrooge when he was begging  the Ghost of Christmas Future.

But now it is twelve years later and all those things happened and more.

Most of them happened with me having zero control over it.

And all of them  made me a better man.

I wouldn’t have wished my sister to die for anything in the world.  But it changed me to my very core as nothing else could have.  It developed in me strength and courage and compassion that was untapped until I had to process and deal with that tragedy in my life.  (And if I were able to somehow tell my sister this, I’m pretty sure her response would be, “How nice for you.  Meanwhile, I’m still dead”).

I learned what true friendship looks like by going through it with others, and I am now able to see and appreciate genuine friends and let go of those who are not genuine and who suck the energy from me.  There are so, so many good friends in my life.   But let me give you an example of a true friend during that time.

Soon after I returned from that insanely grueling trip to Ohio during my sister’s short illness and death, my friend Alexandra sat with me in my backyard and just listened as I told her the whole terrible story not leaving out any detail no matter how insignificant.  Every once in a while she would shake her head sadly and say how terrible it all was.   She didn’t try to fix it.  She didn’t try to get me to look on the bright side.  She just was a witness to my grief.   That is a great friend.

There were others who did the same.  My friend Greg sat through a very long lunch hearing the same details.    And so many more who kept me afloat while I was sinking… Steve helped me order plane tickets home, Jill drove me to the airport at 4 in the morning…Scottie watched my dogs…Megan kept my life somehow running while I was away and helped me find my lost luggage upon my return while I had a breakdown in the middle of LAX,,,) I will cherish those people for the rest of our lives.

But I also learned to forgive those who couldn’t show up and then to move on.

In those ten years, I learned to value my life and myself, and to be patient because grief will not be rushed.  I learned that joy will come back if you can figure out how to ride out the sad–hopefully with the help of others.  I truly believe there is always  help from others when you reach out for it.

I then looked at my husband’s Saul’s 10-Year-Challenge photos.  He and I both lived in LA at the same time and travelled in the exact same circles, but we never intersected until we both moved to New York.  We often say that we would have not been ready to meet and come together a second before we did.  I know his journey in these last ten years and they certainly weren’t all easy.  I know those years shaped him to be the man he is today– the man who is a good husband.   And I know he started drawing only in the last few of those ten years and is now an amazingly gifted artist.   I mean, I don’t think anyone could see that surprise happening.   Who knows what is deep down inside us waiting to bloom?

Clearly I have no idea what the future will bring.  If I look more than an hour ahead the unknown looks scary.   Constancy seems like the thing I endlessly strive for, but that is not what I got in the last ten years.

But all the change and upheaval has transformed me into a very happy man.

I look into the face of both of my photos.  The man in the second picture looks so much more centered and secure (and that is not only because of the good lighting in the room it was taken).   And that is truly how I feel.

I’m not yet ready to shake my fist at the heaven’s and shout, “BRING ON CHANGE!  BRING ON UPHEAVAL!”

The most I can do is try to meet the surprises of each day with grace and humor.

And continue moisturizing when I get up in the morning and go to bed at night.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Keith Hoffman just now wrote his first blog without mentioning even once that Trump is an absolute dangerous train wreck as a President.   Who says people can’t change?



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Keith Hoffman lives with his artist husband, dog and two cats in the small town Lambertville, New Jersey 72 miles outside of New York City. He has completed a memoir entitled The Summer My Sister Grew Sideburns.

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